The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
By Jae on November 8, 2005 01:13PM (MST)
(4+ of 5)
1015 Amazon customers can't be wrong. Well, I don't think they were this time, anyway. This is a great book. In my mind, this book does for autism what Set This House in Order did for multiple personality disorder; it gives the reader a little insight into what it means to suffer the affliction while remaining wholly entertaining.
The hero of this story, an autistic teenager named Christopher, finds the neighbor's poodle skewered with a pitchfork and decides to play Sherlock Holmes and write a mystery book about it. As Christopher investigates the dog's death, he learns about the people who live around him, and you learn what it is like to live with autism: counting red and yellow cars to decide what kind of day today is going to be; being overwhelmed by your senses; living life by a rigid (but not entirely inflexible) set of seemingly arbitrary rules. And you might learn a little bit about math and logic along the way.
Another great thing about this book: It is a very fast read (3-1/2 hours).
Butterfly Weed by Donald Harington
By Jae on September 23, 2005 12:24PM (MDT)
3+ of 5
I picked this up as light reading after finishing Lonesome Dove. It was perfect. Harington knows how to tell a story. I laughed every single time I picked up this book. It is rife with Ozarkian folklore, folk medicine, folk humor, and folks. It's a bit fantastical as Doc Swain cures people in their dreams, meets his lover in their dreams for their first romantic liaison, and sets up a student who is endowed with two penises with another student who's got two vaginas, but this aspect is buffered by the telling of more than you ever want to know about tuberculosis. Harington has written a bunch of other books about the Ozark town of Stay More, and I think I might need to read one or two of them.
This is what Booklist has to say:
While gathering backwoods lore during the 1920s, Vance Randolph (a folklore collector) contracts typhoid fever and comes under the care of Doc Swain. From his nursing home bed, Vance narrates the history of Colvin Swain, who was conceived in a patch of butterfly weed, sliced from his mother's womb, and given to a cave-dwelling folk doctor, who taught Colvin everything he knows about treating the sick in the Ozarks. Doc Swain settles in Stay More, Arkansas, and practices medicine by mixing folk remedies in with scientific procedures. At one point he is healing patients in their dreams, but the dream cures nearly bankrupt him because sleeping patients don't have to pay. At another point Swain is teaching hygiene, psychology, and basketball at a Baptist academy. Here he meets the lusty Venda Breedlove, her son Russ, and the love of his life, Tenny Tennison....
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
By Jae on August 8, 2005 09:36AM (MDT)
(5 of 5)
It took me about three years to finish this book, but it was worth the wait. I would pick this up between books, before my Amazon order arrived or I could get to the bookstore. It didn't really grab me for the first hundred pages or so (I'd guess that I picked it up 3 or 4 different times and would just start where I left off). But the last time it took and I plowed through the last 700 pages, reading the last 125 pages or so in one night.
Lonesome Dove teems with engaging characters and exciting situations. I loved the way it made the West seem untrammeled, yet as small as your local neighborhood.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
by Nicole on July 13, 2005 11:35AM (MDT)
4.5 of 5
This was such a great book, really fresh and innovative - a great first-person narrative. Loved the dark humor and laughed out loud. Here is the Amazon blurb:
"I exist!" exclaims Ruby Lennox upon her conception in 1951, setting the tone for this humorous and poignant first novel in which Ruby at once celebrates and mercilessly skewers her middle-class English family. Peppered with tales of flawed family traits passed on from previous generations, Ruby's narrative examines the lives in her disjointed clan, which revolve around the family pet shop. But beneath the antics of her philandering father, her intensely irritable mother, her overly emotional sisters, and a gaggle of eccentric relatives are darker secrets--including an odd "feeling of something long forgotten"--that will haunt Ruby for the rest of her life. Kate Atkinson earned a Whitbread Prize in 1995 for this fine first effort.
Re: Behind the Scenes at the Museum
By Jae at 08:47AM (MDT) on Aug 8, 2005
I finished Behind the Scenes at the Museum at 6 o'clock this morning. I have to give it an enthusiastic four stars out of five (but then again, I love books about messed up families). Kate Atkinson has a lot to live up to after this first novel.
The story spans the family history of Ruby Lennox, starting with her great grandmother in pre-WWI England and ending with her and her sisters, but not in chronological order. Atkinson introduces so many characters in this relatively short book that you think There's no way she can keep this all together, but then she does, tying up all the loose ends. Although, I could have used a family tree.
Atkinson nails the voice of a child in a way I haven't seen since Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. I loved the in utero narrative and plan to go back and read it again, probably tonight.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
By Nicole on July 7, 2005 07:51AM (MDT)
(5 of 5)
I really loved this book.
The book consists of 6 stories, independent of each other but with connections that are revealed throughout the book. The stories form an "onion," that is, the first story stops midway and is finished at the end of the book, the second story is finished second to last, etc. The sixth story is complete in the center. Each story takes place in chronological order; the 1st story in the 1850s, the next in the 1930s, then 1970s, and so on. There's a strong message throughout that ties the stories together, and although it won't be a new message for most people, it still feels original and fresh because of the format, and it lingered with me for days after finishing.
My only criticisms are that it can be hard to switch gears so frequently - each story is so radically different. The first story is nearly impossible to get through, and unfortunately ends the book, so I somewhat dreaded getting back to it, even though it was much more intriguing when resumed. Similarly, my favorite story by far was the 6th, middle story so I was bummed when it ended, knowing that I wouldn't be revisiting it like the others.
All in all, this was an excellent, really smart, original read. Highly recommended.
Re: Cloud Atlas
By Jae at 12:42PM (MST) on Nov 8, 2005
I would also give Cloud Atlas 5 stars. Although the mechanism used to break the stories up seems a little contrived at times, I think Mitchell pulls it off. He (in the form of Frobisher) even admits at one point that he isn't sure it is going to work, and that only time will tell. This book could have been published as a collection of short stories, and it would have been good, but by splitting the stories in half and telling them in ascending/descending order, the theme of the stories is strengthened. And I love the way that Mitchell suggests who his influences are for certain tales.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
by Nicole on May 10, 2005 02:32PM (MDT)
(4.5 of 5)
I think this book was, like, required reading for women about 3 years ago. I just got around to reading it this month and I can see why it was so popular. It's a fictional work based on a woman mentioned briefly in the Bible. Dinah was the only daughter of Jacob and there is a short chapter in the Bible about her involvement in a violent encounter between her brothers and local royalty. Anita Diamant builds this small bit of information into a story of Dinah's life. However, I don't think you need to have a knowledge or even an interest in the Bible to enjoy this book. The Biblical events (Jacob wrestling with God, Joseph sold into slavery, etc.) are overshadowed by the fiction of the book, which is the most captivating part of the story. You may know the "characters" well, but they are explored with a depth that can only occur when imagination plays a part.
I thought the story was beautifully told, the characters were rich and deep, and Dinah was a compelling heroine. I raced through this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it.
Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke
By Jae on May 6, 2005 12:44PM (MDT)
(3 of 5)
Scott loaned me this book. It was written by the father of a friend of his.
I had a little trouble getting going with this one. Like a lot of detective novels, it started out a little slow. The story starts down in Lousiana, then moves north to Missoula, the Flathead, and the Front Range. I really started to enjoy it once they got up north, not just because of the locale, but because Dave Robicheaux, the main character, really started messing with people's heads once he got to Montana. BCB has all the trappings of a classic detective story: a former alcoholic, ex-cop whose wife was whacked by drug dealers (I'm thinking that happened in the previous Dave Robicheaux novel; it's a series) is framed for a murder by some shady dudes and has to travel to unfamiliar territory to clear his name, enlisting the help of his ex-partner and a college roommate, and falling in lust and love along the way. Oh, and don't forget the nuns.
If you like Tony Hillerman novels, you'll probably like this one.
Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff
By Jae on May 6, 2005 12:43PM (MDT)
(3 of 5)
OK, so it wasn't Set This House in Order but I liked it anyway. I just couldn't dislike a book where the antagonists are the Rubbermaid (a mannequin dressed in a vinyl S&M jumpsuit carrying a bowl of prophylactics) and a parade dragon that was created by a group of engineering students, and the antagonists are a mongrel dog and a writer who controls the wind. The story brims with literary references (many Shakespearean or mythological and nearly all lost on me), including characters named Puck and Calliope and a box inscribed "Pandora." It is a cavorting tale that makes most Tom Robbins books look factual and linear. However, it gets a bit thin at the end; it's predictable and Ruff has trouble tying it all together.
Hey, Nostradamous! by Douglas Coupland
By Jae on March 16, 2005 09:12AM (MST)
(3+ of 5)
I was loaned this book at the same time as Coupland's All Families Are Psychotic. This is another quick and easy read, but worthwhile. It's full of interesting characters and is beautifully told. It lacks the humor of some of Coupland's other works (more like Life After God than Generation X), but then again a Columbine-type lunchroom massacre isn't a particularly funny backdrop (the story doesn't dwell on the violence or try to explain the motives).
In 1988, a catastrophic episode of teen violence changes a suburban community forever. Hey Nostradamus! is Douglas Coupland's keenly observant exploration of this tragic landscape. With unflinching candor and black humor, Hey Nostradamus! follows various voices across two decades: the teenagers whose ordinary preoccupations with sex and spirituality will never evolve past that moment; the parents whose sudden exposure to their children's passionate underground world threatens their deepest convictions; and those who come to know the troubled survivors only later in life, who will only ever have an inkling of what really transpired.
Utterly unexpected, Hey Nostradamus! wrestles with religion and with sorrow and its acceptance. It will take you to a place you didn't know existed.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
By Jae on March 16, 2005 08:56AM (MST)
(Rating 5 of 5)
Now THIS is a great book (Thanks for loaning it to me, Scott). I really can't say enough about it. At first, Chabon's style (heavy on the narrative and I've never had to look up so many words) seemed a bit much to me, but after reading the first chapter I was completely hooked into the story with it's comic book superheroes and villains, real-life heros and villains, Golums, great escapes and prestidigitations. It's a big book, but worth the time.
This brilliant epic novel set in New York and Prague introduces us to two misfit young men who make it big by creating comic-book superheroes. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdiniesque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America the comic book. Inspired by their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapists, The Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men.
Re: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
by Nicole at 10:07AM (MDT) on Apr 29, 2005
I don't think I liked this book as much as Scott and Jae.
There were things I really liked about it, but the narrative was so heavy that the book became almost a homework assignment - I just wanted to read it to get it finished. The story just kind-of meanders along and I was left wondering what the purpose was. I think my biggest criticism with the book is the handling of the characters. I would feel connected to certain characters at points and then feel almost nothing for them 100 pages later. There were times they seemed really deep and richly-drawn and I could understand their motivations, and then in other parts their actions were, to me, so out of character and unbelievable that they seemed put there simply to move the story in a certain direction.
There are parts of this book that are really fascinating. There are chapters that I loved. Getting to them was a chore. This book could have been about 200 pages shorter.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
By Jae on March 16, 2005 08:43AM (MST)
(Rating 4 of 5)
If you saw the movie Smoke Signals and liked it, you really should read this book. If you didn't see the movie, read it anyway. Smoke Signals was based on some of these stories, but only about half of them make it into the movie. It is a quick and easy read (I think I read it in 3 or 4 days), yet one of the most poetic books I've read in quite a while.
In this darkly comic short story collection, Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. These twenty-two interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream. There is Victor, who as a nine-year-old crawled between his unconscious parents hoping that the alcohol seeping through their skins might help him sleep, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who tells his stories long after people stop listening, and Jimmy Many Horses, dying of cancer, who writes letters on stationary that reads "From the Death Bed of Jimmy Many Horses III," even though he actually writes then on his kitchen table. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and mostly poetically between modern Indians and the traditions of the past.
All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland
By Jae on March 16, 2005 08:32AM (MST)
(Rating: 3 of 5)
My friend Sabine loaned me this book over Thanksgiving after talking about how messed up our families are. I have to admit, it did make me feel better about mine.
This family, the Drummonds, is fucked up. The story is almost completely implausible, but it is fiction after all. I gave this book a 4, although I probably would have given it a 3 if I didn't like Douglas Coupland's other stories so much.
The most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction.
The Drummond family descends upon the state of Florida, cutting a swath through Disney World, Cape Canaveral, the swamps and the highways, gathering to watch the launch into space of their beloved daughter and sister, Sarah. What should be a cause for celebration becomes instead the impetus for a series of mishaps and coincidences that place them in constant peril. In a family where gunplay, black market negotiations and kidnapping are all part of an afternoon in the sun, you can only imagine what happens when things take a turn for the worse.
As the family spins dangerously out of control, the story unfolds at a lightning-fast pace. With one plot twist after the other, the Drummonds fall apart and come together in the most unexpected ways.
Heartwarming and maddeningly human, the family Coupland creates is like one you've never seen before-with the possible exception of your own.